- By Shonda Novak American-Statesman Staff
Donald Trump’s development team is being linked to a potential hotel project in Austin, but people close to the project offered few details Friday.
The New York Times reported that developers are planning a $130 million project called the Austin Mirabeau Trump Hotel. City of Austin documents show that a project with the proposed name of Waterloo Park Tower is in the works for the site at 1201 Red River St., which is currently home to the Brick Oven Restaurant. Waterloo Park Tower is a 24-story hotel project, according to permits filed with the city.
According to a fundraising document, the Times reported, the $130 million Austin Mirabeau Trump Hotel would offer 277 high-end rooms. The project would use the Trump name and be operated by his firm. Its developers are seeking $40 million in funding from investors, according to the document, which says construction will begin in the fourth quarter of this year.
The Austin project hasn’t been officially greenlighted, and it is unclear what level of involvement Trump or his organization actually have. A Trump Hotels spokeswoman didn’t deny any Trump involvement in the Austin project, but played down the organization’s connection, the Times reported.
“Our growth strategy is to expand the Trump Hotels portfolio by strategically developing and opening properties in both key U.S. and international locations,” the spokeswoman, Jennifer Rodstrom, told the Times. “While we do not have a definite project in Austin at this time, we remain interested in key U.S. cities and will continue to explore such opportunities accordingly.”
Rodstrom didn’t return a message the American-Statesman left at her office Friday.
It was unclear Friday whether the proposed Austin Mirabeau Trump Hotel would replace the Waterloo Park Tower project currently proposed for the site, or if they are the same project, with some changes. The Times said the project would be a 33-story tower.
Alan Nalle, an Austin businessman who owns the land where the project is planned, said he is leasing the site to a “single-purpose” entity.
“The approved use in the ground lease is an upscale hotel, so this idea that they’re attempting to build a hotel is no surprise,” Nalle said. “The surprise to me is that this thing would become part of the presidential election.”
Nalle said he doesn’t know who the ownership is behind the entity leasing his land. He said his point of contact for the entity is Brett Norwich. Nalle referred other questions to Norwich, an entrepreneur who invests in real estate in Texas and elsewhere.
Norwich is chief executive of Global Management Resources LLC, or GMR, a developer working with the Trump Organization on the hotel, according to a pitch for the project detailed in a 16-page document distributed to Chinese investors in recent weeks, the Times reported.
In September, Norwich filed for personal bankruptcy protection, listing more than $11 million in business-related debt. The filing said that GMR had no assets of value and that his projects had failed over the past two years.
Nalle said that Norwich is “absolutely current on every obligation to me.”
Reached by phone Friday, Norwich told the Statesman he would discuss the Austin hotel project only if the Statesman didn’t report on his bankruptcy filing. When the Statesman refused, Norwich ended the phone conversation.
Fundraising pitches for the Austin project offer an additional enticement to foreign investors, the Times reported: a potential path to a U.S. green card. Chinese investors who put at least $500,000 into the project could get a visa as part of the federal government’s EB-5 program visa program, which is aimed at bringing foreign dollars into the U.S. and helping create jobs in economically troubled American neighborhoods.
The investment effort, the materials indicate, is being led by Kevin Rogers, an EB-5 fundraiser in Dallas. The document says Rogers is raising money for Norwich’s GMR.
For wealthy Chinese individuals, a green card can be a ticket out of a country that is struggling with heavy air pollution, a rigid education system and an increasingly authoritarian political environment.
The EB-5 visa program has at times been marred by cases of fraud and questions of whether it produces the desired economic results.
In Austin, the proposed Trump-branded hotel comes at a time when Central Texas is seeing an influx of Chinese investment. Angelou Economics, an Austin-based economic consulting firm, helped organize a Texas-China Investment Summit held in Austin Oct. 12-14.
Developers pitched more 100 projects representing more than $3 billion in potential investment statewide, with “the great majority” targeted for Central Texas, said Angelos Angelou, CEO of Angelou Economics. One Chinese investment group alone is interested in making a potential $300 million investment in about half a dozen projects in the region, Angelou said.
“The Asian community in Austin is one of the fastest growing,” Angelou said. “They are predominately entrepreneurs who have been investing in this community for many, many years.”